It’s been 15 years since my divorce. I haven’t seen hide or hair of my ex-husband in over a decade. I have no idea if he’s remarried or relocated. I am 99% certain he doesn’t have children, and I’m fairly sure I would somehow have found out if he was no longer wandering this mortal coil. If I wanted to get in touch with him, for some strange and unimaginable reason, I could probably contact his parents. Other than that, he could be on the moon for all I know. Which sorta makes it hard for me to thank him for completely ruining my life.
I married too young. I married the wrong person, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. There was no way that was going to work. I was also on the rebound. I needed to prove to myself that someone wanted me, that I was worth marrying, that being a wife was something I was good at. There was a strong attraction in the material comforts of combining two incomes and one apartment. He was a terrific cook. He always did at least his share of the housework. Shoot, why not get married? Just because I was only 22 and he was diagnosed bipolar – what could possibly go wrong?
Knowing what I know now, we would never have been married. We would never have lived together. We would never have gone on a date. None of that would have happened, because I would have recognized his constant criticism and contempt for what they were in the span of a five-minute conversation. “My, how rude. Oh, I see: that was no accident. You are not just ‘being rude.’ You are in fact a congenitally rude individual.” At the time, I thought his snarky comments were 1. Funny and 2. A sign that he was smarter than me. Whenever he would disparage me, I would perk right up and assume that he must know something I didn’t know. He had mystical powers of character judgment. I learned to accept his occasional cruelty as something I deserved.
I don’t blame him anymore for what happened. He was just being himself. When he asked for the divorce, he admitted that he had manipulated me and misrepresented himself because he wanted to be with me. He told me not to take it personally, that he was still attracted to me and still wanted to date. He just didn’t want to be married anymore. This seems hilarious to me now. I mean, truly hilarious. I really can’t take it personally, because he would have been himself and behaved the same way no matter who he dated or married. It was his nature. I could have recognized him for who he was. I chose to ignore and rationalize certain things because I was naïve and foolish and I believed I could control things that cannot be controlled. (Examples: other people’s inherent character; other people’s feelings; how other people see you).
I met my current husband a few weeks before my 30th birthday. Therefore, I spent the entire decade of my 30s in his orbit. Other than a few lame dates and a short-term relationship that ended badly, almost all my dating history belongs to my teens and 20s. This gives an interesting perspective. Through the miracle of social media, I can look back at old flames and also-rans and see how they turned out. High school reunions are also great for this. Once you’ve seen how a couple hundred people have aged over a couple of decades, a certain clarity settles in. Patterns you couldn’t recognize in your youth start to stand out. Who has anger management issues? Who can’t commit? Who has a substance abuse problem? Who is already working on a fourth marriage? I’m lucky to be on good terms with some sweet gentlemen who would have been mutually assured disasters if we had tried to stay together in the long term. Some of those breakups were… painful. After enough time had passed, we could drop all that and just be the platonic friends we should have been all along.
See, I don’t want anyone to suffer, no matter how badly he crushed my heart. For one thing, my current marriage is awesome. The not-quite relationships had to end before I could be free to meet my husband. I don’t waste any time begrudging life to my exes. What they’re doing these days has little or nothing to do with what I’m doing. What they did back in the 90s or early 2000s served to teach me everything I know about romantic partnerships. Most importantly, I learned what I didn’t want, what to avoid, what questions to ask, which chemical reactions meant danger rather than compatibility. I learned that a surprising proportion of standard behaviors and attitudes belong to someone’s age and stage of life, rather than pure personality.
Even if I did continue to carry a boiling resentment toward someone who broke my heart in the past, I would still want him to be successful. That’s ego talking. It redounds on my reputation if I can say that someone I used to date is doing well. “Ah, yes, he’s a doctor and a lawyer who just got a billion-dollar valuation on his new company.” It doesn’t reflect as well if I’m still so bitter that I go off on a rant whenever his name comes up. If he was so awful, what’s wrong with me that I dated him? Shouldn’t I just be relieved that it’s over now, and go back to focusing on other things?
I’ve been cheated on and lied to. My secrets have been betrayed. I’ve dated people who have stolen from me, both possessions and money. I’ve been left for the younger blonde and I’ve been left by someone who then dated my friend. Whatever. Now I’m street-smart. I see all that stuff as a set of vital life lessons. I’ve even been able to build some friendships out of the rubble. I’m not mad. Walk in peace, my friends. Wherever my ex-husband is, I hope he’s happy. I hope he’s taking care of himself. I’m grateful he let me go so completely. No strings. If we ever run into each other again, I’ll wave and maybe say hello. I hope he got as much out of our terminal abomination of a marriage as I did. That was all a millennium ago, and it feels like it.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.